Fresno City Council needs better reasons to raise wages
Are Fresno City Council members underpaid?
This is the delicate question which the Council is currently debating. Three of its members — Luis Chavez, Mike Karbassi and Tyler Maxwell — have proposed an order to raise council member salaries from $80,000 a year to $135,000 a year. That’s a rise of nearly 70% in one fell swoop.
A majority of council approved the pay rise on Thursday (Garry Bredefeld and Esmeralda Soria voted no), but that was just a first reading of the ordinance, and the measure will come back in the coming weeks for a second ratification. .
In the busy world of Fresno’s regular workforce, such wage increases are unprecedented.
Board members saying “we work hard and have demanding jobs, so we need more money” is understandable, but ultimately not enough on its own. What worker anywhere doesn’t think that?
The majority of council should give it some more thought and come back with a polished proposal that ratepayers can support.
Arguments for a salary increase
Chavez, Karbassi, Council Member Miguel Arias and Council President Nelson Esparza spoke out in favor of the higher salary and listed these justifications:
▪ Although the consultancy service may be billed as a part-time service, it is actually a full-time job. 12-2 p.m. days are routine, and Arias said he regularly attends a community event every night during the work week and several events on weekends, all because his constituents in the southwest of Fresno and the Tower District expected it.
▪ There is no pension offered to council members, so regardless of their term of office, they do not earn retirement savings through the city.
▪ The job of city councilor has become increasingly demanding. Arias held up several thick city staff binders filled with information about Thursday’s agenda items; it was a long read that he had to do to prepare properly. Arias also said he received death threats and had his children filmed at school by people who oppose him. Such nonsense should not happen to any elected official.
▪ Karbassi said the key for him was to attract “the best and brightest” candidates who could sit on the board. Raising the salary would help do that, he pointed out, especially for young professionals with families.
The proposal ties council member salaries to what Fresno County supervisors earn, which is currently $135,044 per year. In 1994, supervisors tied their salaries to 60% of the raises granted to Superior Court judges. (The chairman of the board, with greater responsibilities, earns $151,925).
Points for salary increase
Bredefeld has over the years opposed efforts to increase the salaries of council members. His main reason? It’s a public service position, and anyone campaigning for the position knows that.
▪ Lack of pension is also known in advance, he said.
▪ He said that on the list of comparable cities in the state, Fresno currently ranks fifth in council member compensation. With the salary increase, it would move into second place, paying better than San Diego.
▪ The median income in the city is $53,000 — well below the proposed hike, Bredefeld noted. In the Arias district, the median income is $30,000, Bredefeld showed on a map of Fresno.
“We are going to take your taxpayers’ money and put it in our pocket even if you are struggling,” he said.
He also blamed Arias, Chavez and Esparza for not talking about it during their recent re-election campaigns, which they won. The new pay rate would take effect in January.
A different approach
To be fair to the board members, their work is demanding. The hours are long, the issues increasingly complex. They are rarely thanked or praised. They face a daily torrent of criticism on social networks.
They currently earn less than other professionals. The highest paid teachers in Fresno, for example, earn more than $100,000 a year. High-ranking City Hall staff themselves are paid more than the council members who are their ultimate bosses.
Asked about the proposed salary increases for council members, Mayor Jerry Dyer said it was a big leap and perhaps should happen over several years, rather than just one. time. (It should be noted that the mayor’s salary would also increase under the proposal).
That’s a good point. Most workers rarely see salary increases of nearly 70% all at once. The board should consider taking half the increase now and the other half next year.
Board pay should also be tied to achievable goals, as is the case for many private sector workers. They could be as simple as these:
▪ Each council district must have a fixed number of roads repaved per year.
▪ Each council member must hold at least three town hall meetings in their district per year to hear from voters.
▪ And each council member must visit all other districts at least once a year.
The majority of the board should lower their financial expectations and achieve quantifiable goals. It would be more acceptable to average citizens. But 70% more salary at the turn of the calendar year? We can’t buy that.
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